The rise of political correctness and rigid ideological filters is only one reason the humanities are suffering a precipitous decline in enrollment at colleges and universities. Other reasons include the deliberate obscurity and mediocrity that attend so many humanities programs and professors these days. (I’ve observed classics departments where the object seems to be keeping as esoteric, inaccessible, and irrelevant as possible.) Why would students want to waste their time on “Queer Themes in Shakespeare”?
In the New York Times today Christy Wampole points to one strong symptom of the maladies afflicting the humanities in “The Conference Manifesto”:
We are weary of academic conferences.
We are humanists who recognize very little humanity in the conference format and content.
We have sat patiently and politely through talks read line by line in a monotone voice by a speaker who doesn’t look up once, wondering why we couldn’t have read the paper ourselves in advance with a much greater level of absorption.
We have tried to ignore the lack of a thesis or even one interesting sentence in a 20-minute talk.
Our jaws have hung in disbelief as a speaker tries to squeeze a 30-minute talk into a 20-minute slot by reading too fast to be understood.
We have been one of two attendees at a panel.
We have suffered in silence while someone, for the duration of their talk, simply lists the appearances of a certain theme in a novel.
Our faces have twitched as our colleagues pretend they’ve understood a speaker’s academese. . .
We have wondered, “If this is what the humanities have become, should they continue to exist?”
It’s worth reading the whole thing.
But be sure to couple it with The Toast’s sendup of every Q & A you’ve ever heard. Samples:
3. “This question has two parts, neither of which have anything to do with the other or the subject at hand. Also, this question has four parts.”
4. “Can you possibly speak to an area that is outside of your expertise but is secretly in mine, so that when you can’t answer it, I can try to hang onto the microphone and answer it for you?”
13. “This is more of an observation than a question – in fact it’s not a question at all – in fact it’s less an observation than an open-ended series of unconnected thoughts wrapped in a thin veneer of criticism – I’ve never asked a question in my life.”
This one is worth reading in total as well.
But finally, who needs humanities professors at all when you can get the “Random Academic Sentence Generator” to write your sentences for you. Just a few clicks at the tabs and I got this:
The linguistic construction of post-capitalist hegemony is, and yet is not, the discourse of the gendered body.
Sounds conference-ready to me! (And another threat to underemployed adjuncts.)